Monday, November 25, 2013

Just so you know...

I do practice what I preach.  A few weeks ago, I wrote this: Write letters to the people who have impacted your life. Track down the teacher or Girl Scout leader who made such a difference in your life. Email the college professor who inspired you to think in a newer, bigger way.  

The gratitude letter is one of the ways I celebrate Thanksgiving each year.  This year, I wrote a thank you letter to a former professor of mine who made a huge impact on my life.  I really put my heart into the letter and sent it off with a prayer that it would reach my former professor at just the time he most needed encouragement. 

I heard back from him within an hour.  His email thrilled me as he shared how my letter had impacted him and even made him cry.  That's just what I was hoping for - to be a blessing.

I'd like to challenge you to consider writing a letter of your own.  When someone has made a difference in you life, don't you think really thanking them is is worth the effort?  Maybe reading mine will inspire you. 

Dear Dr. __________,
 I have been meaning to write to you for years. As Thanksgiving draws near, it is my annual tradition to write to someone who has blessed and impacted my life. This year, that's you.

Out of all the many, many students you have taught, I really doubt that you remember me. I, however, remember you very well. I attended _______ from 1988 to 1993 and I was in your classes for a few of those years. I wasn't married then, so my name was Relyn Chrisner. You did something way back then for which I owe quite a large debt. You changed my life. I know, I know. Nearly every person we meet impacts us in some way. But, you made a measurable, incredible difference and it's about time I thanked you for it.

It was some time in1991 when you called me to your office and told me off. I mean it. You made the term brutally honest come to life. You were not easy on me. Not a bit. You yelled at me for being distracted, acting like a slacker, and for wasting my brains. You waved my transcript in my face and fussed at me for the incredible drop in grades from my freshman year to then. You had even gone to the trouble to look up my SAT scores and you told me off for not applying myself in either high school or college. You asked, "Why the h#$& don't you have a scholarship with a mind like that?" You were as truthful with me as anyone in my life - before or since.

Basically, you made me furious. I left your office as angry as I had ever been.


Something you said stayed with me. It played in my head on constant repeat. I remember just praying to get your voice out of my head. You said, "If you don't do something now, right NOW, you are going to be mediocre for the rest of your life! If you don't begin to change your habits and your ways of thinking, you, Relyn, will never be anything more than average! What a waste that would be!"

I thought and thought about what you said. It took days for my shock, my indignation, my fury to subside. How dare he talk to me that way? How dare he say those terrible things? I am NOT mediocre! It took weeks for a small voice to begin answering back. Maybe he did it because he cares. Maybe he did it because you needed to hear it. If you aren't average, how do you explain your grades? If you aren't lazy, why the disinterest? It took months for me to make my momentous decision. I am finished with mediocrity. From now on, I will be excellent. I will work hard. I will achieve. I will not allow myself to settle for second best. I will refuse to be lazy. I WILL NOT give up. I will never again settle for mediocrity. Right now, I choose to live an excellent life. Right now, I choose to change and to grow and to strive always to be excellent.

What I really wanted to say, is thank you. Those two words are not enough, never enough. The time you took, the concern that prompted our talk completely changed my life. It's your voice I still hear in my head when I start to take the easy road. It's your words I still recall when I try and try and want to give up because mastery is so darn difficult, never mind excellence. It's my SAT scores rushing past my face that I envision when I feel dumb and foolish and exhausted.

It's you I think of when I stand in front of my students each day. It's you who made me the teacher I am.

If you could see me with my students, I think you would be proud. They don't know how much they owe to you. But, I do. I can never repay what you did for me. Each day, though, I try to pay it forward. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 If you do write a letter, come back and tell me about it, won't you?


Sandy K. said...

What a wonderful tradition, and great thing to do. As an educator, I know how important that bit of positive reinforcement can be. When I have a really difficult day I go to my file of "attributions," and go through emails and notes and renew myself that this job is "worth it," and that I'm making a difference. You done good, girl:) Thank you for sharing!

alexa said...

A beautiful letter ... Heart felt. And a splendid tradition. We don't have Thanksgiving over here the way you do but there is nothing to stop us from expressing our gratitude :).

Suz said...

oh my this was terrific and sure did make my heart ache and a tear of joy run down my face

Georgianna said...

This is just fabulous, Relyn! How wonderful for you to do this. And a perfect Thanksgiving tradition. We should do it all the time.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your sweet family, dear.


Jeanne said...

More than words letters mingle souls.............Keep up this beautiful tradition.
I was very moved
Blessings and happy Thanksgiving
my sweet friend.
I am ever thankful for you.

Kindness is the special art of living with a loving heart♥

amelia said...

One, that's a lovely letter; two, sounds like a great professor. Thankful, indeed . . .

Anonymous said...

I just love this, Relyn! I read your letter to my daughter, who is a teacher and refuses to give up on her students.
You have been a true blessing to your former professor. And you are right, sometimes the people who want to kick us in the rear have the greatest impact on our lives.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Ms. K @ Write On Thyme said...

I LOVE that you do this every year! What a wonderful thing. And that you found the jewel in what did not appear like a gift. You are an excellent person, Relyn!

Marilyn said...

How very special! I love that you wrote him this letter and that he received it. I have a feeling the teachers I had were too long ago and not even alive. I guess I could write to them anyway and hold it in my heart. It's hard to remember who that might be, but I think it would be my 6th grade teacher, Mr. LaMar for telling my mother that I had an artistic talent and should be encouraged and Mrs. Woods in high school English for knowing that I enjoyed what she taught and that she opened doors to beautiful literature.

HKatz said...

This brought tears to my eyes… wow, what a powerful letter. It was awesome of you to send it to your professor. Have a great Thanksgiving, you and your family. Though I'm sure you 'pay it forward' when teaching your students, you also do so on this blog. I needed to hear some of those words this week… especially about not settling for 'second best' because I'm too afraid of what will happen if I try and work my butt off, and because I'm too self-doubting about my abilities and feel, as you put it, 'foolish and exhausted.'

Thank you so much.

Roban said...

Oh, my, this made ME cry! You did write from your heart. I can understand how his words stayed with you. It's clear that he cared. And what lucky students you have because they have you and you had him!

Roban said...

Oh, my, this made ME cry! You did write from your heart. I can understand how his words stayed with you. It's clear that he cared. And what lucky students you have because they have you and you had him!

paris parfait said...

What a great idea and reinforcement of how words are so powerful; they can both wound and heal.

Jenny Woolf said...

What a good idea this is. And so important to tell people - even though sometimes you don't realise till much later how much of an effect they had.

Kyra said...

Thank you for the thanksgiving wishes. I am thankful for your presence in my life, and I am currently travelling through US and having fun. I loved the letter, I have done writing letters myself, for some reason I still prefer letters to emails, they feel so much more intimate.

Oldies, but Goodies